Abandonment of senior citizens seen as family matter: ADGP

Laws and welfare schemes are aplenty to help the elderly and protect them against abuse. However, legal measures to bring relief to the elderly have been hit by a lack of awareness regarding the laws and delays in the implementation of some of the recommendations of the law.

As per the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act notified by the State government in 2009, senior citizens who have been abandoned or had their property appropriated by others can obtain a sum of money as maintenance and get their property back.

Complaints may be filed before the Revenue Divisional Officer or the police in cases of abuse.

Despite the law having been passed more than four years ago, convictions under the law are rare. “Convictions are low because there is a lack of awareness regarding the law. Abandonment of the elderly is still seen as a family matter rather than a police case,” said Additional Director General of Police K. Padmakumar. “Steps to protect the elderly from abuse and neglect in their old age need to be put in place quickly as the number of senior citizens among the total population is rising quickly,” he added.

No cases registered

Officials from the District Crime Records Bureau said no cases had been registered under the law in the city in 2013. The Ernakulam rural police dealt with a few cases of elder abuse in the year. Most of the cases, however, go to the Revenue Divisional Officer.

The RDO convenes tribunals to consider complaints and fixes the sum to be paid as maintenance to the abandoned senior citizen. In several cases, the RDO has also stepped in to bring justice to senior citizens who have been tricked out of their property by their children.

Activists working to assist the elderly, however, said that a separate system should be constituted to tackle complaints coming under the law so that they were cleared faster. The law recommends the formation of State and district councils for older persons along the lines of the National Council for Older Persons. While a State council has been formed in Kerala, it is said to be largely ineffective. The State government had announced that a revised geriatric policy would be formed in 2012. The policy is yet to be released. District councils too have not been formed.

Officials and the police are also often uncertain about the procedure to handle complaints of abuse of senior citizens. “Once there is a complaint, the person who abandoned the senior citizen has to respond within 90 days. But the procedure is unclear about how to handle the situation, if say, the respondent is abroad,” said Biju Mathew, State head of HelpAge India. He said police officials were also often unsure of how to handle cases coming under the law. The Ernakulam rural police, with the assistance of HelpAge India, are organising a training programme next month for its officers on handling cases under the senior citizens’ welfare law.

The police have also compiled a list of senior citizens living alone. Police officials visit the elderly regularly to address their grievances.

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